Senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Union Minister Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi were charged with criminal conspiracy by a court in Lucknow today in the 1992 Babri mosque demolition case. They had argued against the framing of charges against them, asserting that they had no role in the mosque razing and had tried to stop it, but their discharge petition was rejected. The special CBI court, asked to wrap up the case within two years, will now start trial against these leaders. Mr Advani, 89, made his second court appearance in the case in 25 years.
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Before going to court, Mr Advani stopped at the VVIP guest house in Lucknow where he was greeted with flowers by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Uma Bharti, the Water Resources Minister, told reporters: "I don't consider myself an accused...There was no conspiracy, it was an open movement like it happened against the Emergency."
The BJP backed its leaders. "We are sure that our leaders are innocent and will come out unscathed," said Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu.
The special court was given a month by the Supreme Court to frame conspiracy charges against Mr Advani and a dozen other leaders in theBabri demolition case, and was asked to deliver its verdict within two years.
The leaders were already facing trial for making provocative speeches from a platform near the Babri mosque before it was pulled down by karsevaks, or right-wing volunteers, on 6 December 1992. Stating that the two cases cannot be separate, the court transferred the hate speech case from a Rae Bareli court to Lucknow for a joint trial.
The conspiracy charge against Mr Advani and others was dropped by the special CBI Court in 2001, which sought to distinguish between the main demolition case and the case related to the hate speeches. The decision was endorsed by the Allahabad High Court in 2010.
Restoring the charge last month, the Supreme Court described the demolition of the 16th century mosque as a"crime" which shook the "secular fabric of the Constitution".
The court had also strongly rebuked the CBI for a delay of 25 yearsin the trial and said, "The accused persons have not been brought to book largely because of the conduct of the CBI in not pursuing the prosecution of the aforesaid alleged offenders in a joint trial, and because of technical defects which were easily curable, but which were not cured by the State Government."
The demolition of the mosque followed a nationwide movement led by Mr Advani and others for a temple at the site where the mosque was constructed by the Mughals. Many Hindus believe that the mosque was built over the birthplace of Lord Ram; they want a temple to be built there.
The razing of the Babri Masjid incited nationwide riots between Hindus and Muslims; around 2,000 people were killed.